Blog: Summer Festival Season (Summer 2011)

Burning of the Ribbons

13th May 2011 | Larry

The soup today is . . . . . . well, a bit boring to be honest, I’ve had better out of a Batchelors packet but hey ho, at least Andy is back with us so that should spice things up a bit. His leg, now out of plaster, is held in a stylish black PVC and Velcro bootee which he quickly disposes of before he hits the fabulous pool, like a man possessed, upon our arrival in Coimbra.

The temperature by the pool is a lot hotter than anticipated and I’m short on summer T’s, damn the iPhone weather app!! The hot dust bowl of the gig had to be hosed down by the local fire brigade before they let the crowds in.

We are here to close a student festival that’s held every year at the end of the classes but before the exams in August. Tradition dictates that thousands of black-cloaked pre-graduates have to swamp the streets of this slightly mundane Portuguese town and party like mad till dawn for seven whole nights!! ‘Will they have any stamina left for us?’ we wonder.

We needn’t have worried, the crowd were more than up for it. Under cover of the midnight firework display Tim and I sneaked out into the audience to serenade them with Fred Astaire from the salubrious Super Bock beer tent (Should I ask for sponsorship? Product placement?) and after that it was all systems go, right through to the last chord of a stage-invaded Laid.

The Manc crew left hours after the London lot so I missed all the commotion at the airport in Porto. Certain members (who shall remain nameless in case they serve me with an online super-gagging order which are very fashionable right now :-) )realised that they had left passports and mobile phones at the hotel, well over an hours drive away – runners were dispatched and all was good . . . eventually.

Queima das Fitas, Coimbra, Portugal

13th May 2011 | Larry

Festival of the Sea

19th August 2011 | Juliet

Cascais Friday…………The soundcheck is beside the seaside. The beach is packed out with sunbathers and swimmers. We are backstage where it’s decked out like an Ikea showroom, with just a stone wall between us and the lapping waves of the Atlantic. A small bar sits in amongst the Klippan sofas, piled high with limes hinting at Caipirinha action later.

The soundcheck works like a free gig and children and locals set about getting down, dancing about on the mostly empty pit area, sunbathers looking surprised. Later there’s the gig. Tim’s Portuguese relatives are here.

There is dancing everywhere. People are all around on the old houses opposite, across the bay people hang off balconies under the moonlight peering down. The gig begins with Tim and Larry aboard a fisherman’s boat…

619 years old in Viseu

20th August 2011 | Juliet

We set off for the long drive north into the hot hinterlands passing signs that say ‘Spain’….It’s a long drive and it’s getting hotter as we head inland. Tim sleeps as he is still on Los Angeles time. Beside him lies his iPad on which he is forever working, and a book on procrastination.

Check in at the hotel and soon it’s off out to soundcheck. Sunday Morning…..(sounds familiar, and worth looking at James’ earlier version on Youtube, when Larry had a wedge cut)  Nige tells me it was Velvet Underground’s.. (Get him on Never Mind the Buzzcocks).

The gig is on the site of an old medieval fair…619 years old our driver reveals. In days of old people came to trade their pigs and pots and maybe some oranges and lemons, who knows what else. Now they have concerts like this as well as a bit of a market. I buy a couple of chunky traditional pot mugs and one goes on stage with Chinese medicine in it.

Mia has grown out of her pink shoes and Ana heads to the market to buy mini Nikes . Newly shod Mia skips in backstage with a trumpet blasting out rhythmically with James in a festive way. Later at midnight it’s Vinny’s birthday and there is an exceptionally glamorous Portuguese cake…shared and distributed to everyone who dared.

After the show is put to bed the crew maybe get to bed at 2.30am. Then there is the unfortunate fact that they must leave the hotel in Viseu at 4.30am to head to Porto airport to get a flight to Madeira and set up ….yes 4.30am.

Café pingado and a Madeira cake

21st August 2011 | Juliet

There was a bit of a hiccup at the Viseu hotel last night with bringing dinner (Gordon Ramsay where were you), but we won’t detail, nor remember the when-is-a-pizza-vegetarian? incident. And the band are flying down to the Portuguese island of Madeira, with a tropical feel where lush Bird of Paradise flowers abound (those big red and orange blooms that look like jungle birds).

Out the plane window there are rocks sticking out of lapis seas like stalagmites and small bits of land mass. Then kerboom the plane lands and we are transferred to buses, zipping through tunnels along the coast road to our Funchal hotel for a quick bag drop, then whizz to soundcheck… Soundcheck is short. It is scorchio and the air is still.

Gig is in the park a walk away….. Dip in the pool. Food, rest, get to gig. Fonzie went on late. Everything running late…. David Fonseca now on stage and screen, so something to watch and wait.

Sunday Morning and Government Walls are both back, and played back to back.

Monday morning, we are flying home. It’s all too soon. We have a café pingado and a Madeira cake at the café…. Goodbye Portugal …Até logo….Muito obrigada.

Ten bodies, a few guitars and many cases

30th September 2011 | Juliet

There is a heatwave in Manchester where the band are working towards the orchestra project. Two days in a steamy theatre space culminating in a small run through with an audience of a few friends and family. “Okay we’ve got a minute, run through xxxxxxxxx………… again,” says Joe looking at his watch. Tea break is perfectly timed and there’s no wandering off for a text check, a breather or a fag…

Anyway now it’s Friday and it’s freak hot weather for the North on the last day of September.

Ten bodies, a few guitars and many cases. The bus is packed to the gills. “Bit like the old days this,” says Jim cheerily. “We used to have a caravanette and go all over with it. Loading our own gear, load outs up many flights of stairs. We did the Meat Is Murder Tour in it.” We carry on hurtling down the motorways. Jim continues, “It had a cooker, we’d have the rice on and a pot of veggie stew on the go.“

Tim took off his winter weight tartan wool trousers somewhere near Birmingham. He is over lagged. We stop for crisps and plastic bottled smoothies….mine is green and contains chlorella and all. They didn’t have those back in the 80s, nor vegetable crisps.

Despite an early near-head-on with a bus as the driver pulled into the wrong lane in Piccadilly, and several fast breaking manoeuvres as we hurtled down the M whatever, we made it to Stansted.

A flight and arrive in Zaragoza.

Saturday people doing Saturday things

1st October 2011 | Juliet

There seem to be a lot of concrete and buildings in this town which is set in northern Spain, in Aragon. But it also has a river with fine bridges, and the map says there is an old town too with a big tower overlooking things.

After an early soundcheck, the day is very long and ours to do what we will. So there is gym, chilling out, and a park to be walked in. It’s a fine big park with Saturday people doing Saturday things. No shops are open. All is quiet in Zaragoza and then just when we though the day is over at 12.30 (technically Sunday) the JAMES show at the football stadium begins.

Horiatiki for four

2nd October 2011 | Juliet

DAY 3 Sunday

Today is called travel day. Travel day can mean leave Albert Hall and drive to Crouch End. But today it means get up at 5am and drive east four hours to Barcelona. Get plane to Athens. Then get plane to Thessaloniki. There are a few hiccups with the plane timings, something to do with industrial action, by 7pm-ish we are there. Still at least we didn’t cross the Himalayas barefoot. Travel is quite easy these days.

A balmy evening in northern Greece with football blaring on TVs in kafeneions and a goal is scored with roar as we weave round the chairs on our salad hunt. Easy… So it’s a dash of melitzanosalata. Tzatziki, some aginares with potatoes and a round of horiatiki for four of us on a pavement café.


Solidarity and a free show under the White Tower

3rd October 2011 | Juliet

Itinerary says Monday is Day Off. During an interview Tim says the band are going to do a free gig in the park this evening to express solidarity with the people of Greece. At this point (lunchtime) nothing is arranged…

Somehow Larry and Steven find a park near the White Tower. There is a bar there who are happy for things to be based there. Amps are found, an accordion borrowed, a speaker system in place and all crew are on standby all day and then…

At 7pm, on a stage not much bigger than a bus shelter, there is a soundcheck in front of an audience beside a bar in the park in Thessaloniki.

Tim tells the gathering audience he is heading to the White Tower to see if anyone’s waiting. …They are. He returns with Larry and Andy singing Fred Astaire and about 70 people following behind. The park is filling. Packed is an understatement; it’s impossible to move.

“Like Fred Astaire…,” Then the rest of the band join in. The set includes Government Walls where Andy excels himself on rhythmic trumpet. There was no setlist as such… There’s a wild pogo-ing dance duet during Laid.

And so we have it. A free concert in the park to about 1500 people….

Thank you to the owners of the bar Xarchakos and all the people of Thessaloniki. James love Greece.

How best to get to Istanbul?

4th October 2011 | Juliet

Tomorrow there is a mega strike in Greece and there are no planes out to anywhere. We have to be in Istanbul for Thursday’s show. Oh dear…

We are at the venue, it’s 3pm. Sound check is in progress. Everything stops for a decision. How best to get to Istanbul?

Option A includes a long drive to some airport in some country and then a plane which may or may not go to Istanbul due to general chaos. Option B is trying to get to Istanbul from Thessaloniki as planned, but doing it Thursday instead of Wednesday which could be risky due to backlog chaos. Option C is going by double-decker bus overland to Istanbul…

Now in my mind, option C is thrilling…it sounds like Summer Holiday meets The Italian Job, and Vasilis (‘call me Bill’) (er why?) says the drive is awesome. I don’t get a vote, so leave the scene of suspense.

I make Shabby a tea with two sugars and Tim a herbal Throat Coat. The decision is made by the time the tea is brewed.

The British teabags have been brought in courtesy of Geoff Buckley. Not that one.  This one “wouldn’t be caught dead swimming in Mississippi.” Anyway his name isn’t with a J. This Geoff was the lampy with James for many many years and has been brought in for one week only. He is known for his love of all things northern and has a penchant for tea and toast. Geoff without toast is like Wallace without Grommit. He even imports a pint of ‘proper milk’ when he goes on the continent and pulls out a proud carton of semi-skimmed in Stansted.

But the green top is long gone. Today the milk is NOYNOY longlife.

The decision is made by the time the proper tea is brewed. It’s the double decker bus and Tim gets the drivers bunk to kip in.

The band run through Sunday Morning and Medieval which has got super snared up, or maybe it always was? It’s boiling outside and the local crew are on the cooling frappés. Nigel calls by for a coffee and gives a view from the crew, “Yesterday was like a gig and a day off, the best of both worlds.” Nigel aka Banksy looks after all known guitar-shaped things and has been mistaken for Gerard Depardieu. He is always cheerful and a great advert for being a vegetarian.

The gig kicks off tonight at 10.30pm and Larry will be writing to tell what happens next….

Two days, two venues, two audiences, two setlists – one great city

4th October 2011 | Larry

Two days, two venues, two audiences, two setlists and one great city – that was Thessaloniki.

The ‘guerilla gig’ in the park by the White Tower was amazing, the tiny wooden stage at the Xarchakos café resembled a gazebo direct from the garden section at B&Q. The café is run by Giorgos and his lovely wife Sofia, assisted by Costas and Stella plus the rest of the ‘family’ there. The café has been in the family for three generations and tonight, according to Giorgos, is their finest hour. 

During the late afternoon sun our tech crew have worked wonders and pulled together a rag-tag bunch of borrowed gear into a functioning PA and monitor system. One that just about coped with the task of filling the tree lined park with enough sound to entertain the, oh I don’t know,  thousand or so people who were twitterbook savvy enough to know it was happening.

The set was a ‘what shall we do next’ kind of affair.  Mark doing a sterling job on accordion, no mean task in a country full of expert accordion players, and Dave playing a stripped down kit somewhere in the bushes side stage.

Much later that night Giorgos and Co. treated a number of us to a ‘bouzouki’ night, we were expecting a tavern with traditional Greek folk music but were greeted by an extravagant, elaborate X-factor type show with sexily clad singers on a massive stage who were showered with enormous amounts of carnation flowers from the adoring crowd. By 3am the whole shebang resembled some kind of bacchanalian orgy with intoxicated folks dancing on tables turned pink with flower petals. Quite easily one of the most unique and bizarrely enjoyable nights of my life.

The ‘real’ gig the next night was a great contrast,  an indoor baseball stadium that had seen better days .  However, the audience’s warm and giving nature (clearly remembered from the 2009 Earth Theatre gigs)  helped transcend the slightly decrepit  surroundings into a seething, sweaty and joyous re-union with our Salonika fans. 

Getting away with it all messed up was the order of the night when equipped with the best onstage sound we have had in ages we proceeded to make more mistakes than recent memory can recall. In direct comparison with the night before, where the sound was severely hampered and yet we hardly put a foot wrong. . . .Go figure!?!

There was a long bar all down one side of the floor that gave Tim a much utilised stage extension/runway to reach the people at the back whilst still affording everyone a clear view. Methinks we should insist on this feature for future shows, everyone gets served with drink quickly and Tim can go walkabout!! Great!!

All aboard the magic bus to Istanbul

5th October 2011 | Juliet

…More like an elderly coach tour of the Scottish Highlands and Islands than Summer Holiday. There was much dozing, and for one person only, the option of lying horizontal on the back seat. Turns were taken, with Saul given priority. He has a cold….

Incredible place names pointing towards Alexandropoulou…. The scenery was stunning. The vastness of northern Greece is magnificent.

Borders had to be crossed. This took time. The bus was big. The drivers were vague on timings. We stopped for coffee and feeding…

The driver reluctantly allowed his own bunk to become Tim’s rabbit hole. Tim disappeared down it feet first for times to snooze, and sometimes the hatch came down behind him. Sounds like a claustrophobics worst nightmare but….in the name of horizontalness… “Shall we leave him there?” asked Jim on arrival after the 10 hour journey.

We watch the sun go down somewhere over the Turkish border before zooming on to Istanbul…

Istanbul’s eastern promise is vast…miles of concrete and traffic jams encase it. But finally arrival. Tim has a shiatsu…then did his breathing exercises.

Later we are walked through cobbled streets to the restaurant. Fantastic colurful meze of bulgar wheat and salads and yogurty herb dips, then the offer of more served on plates that wore pointy hats of chunky pottery earthenware.

Enough of that. Ambled back to the hotel with Andy, trying not to get lost. A female busker is doing a bluesy sad song with guitar. There are drum rhythms coming out into the night. A szasz shop…the smell of roasting chestnuts and a stall selling pineapple and lush pomegranates…

Transported to the Topkapi palace

6th October 2011 | Juliet

“We are going now,” said the London voice on the phone, ”so get down here ”….I did in 10 minutes, and was transported to the Topkapi palace with some of the crew.

Steve, Tim’s mate, met us in the big magical square. He found us amongst the crispy bread sellers and velvet hat vendors. Barry bought some hot chestnuts which the boy roasting them blew on thoroughly before handing them over.

We headed for where it was at…. The palace. A wonder of this world.

Having studied all this ancient architecture and cultural stuff at Manchester uni told us all sorts as we gazed and admired endless blue tile patterns and the architectural magnificence of the sultan’s palace and harem. The mega chaise longue thing was much admired. But would it fit the front room? As we wandered the ornate complex, Steve told us about eunuchs and their job spec and talked about the bathing.

Then when it all got too hot and time was running out, we wandered away down cobbled streets, and cooled down in a low slung coffee shop with tea in glasses and espressos….before crew call…

Meanwhile Tim, Jim, and Larry were doing radio and TV interviews. They didn’t get to see much of the delights of Istanbul, except from a car window.

Later there was a wander round the endless indoor bazaar selling fake designer gear, spices, carved walking sticks, clothes, precious stones, (is that chunk of lapis real?) and Dave’s faves the wonderful curly toed boots…

The venue was a bit of a way downtown. At 7ish it was time to do soundcheck and show. Traffic was still intense.

Later as the sun went down a dew settled on all known seatable surfaces, and on stage the guitar necks needed constant mopping.

Dinner was a sparkling Turkish buffet spread backstage outside. Stuffed vine leaves with cinnamon memorable and a calorific sweet milk pudding that only Dave dared.

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